By Johnny Jackson
Henry County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Elizabeth "BJ" Mathis and State Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) were recently named to the state's newly formed "Complete Count Committee."
The committee, appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, is a commission of the state's business, government and community leaders who will be charged with educating and coordinating community awareness and action for the upcoming 2010 U.S. Census Survey.
"I am very grateful of the efforts these leaders have committed to this important goal," Perdue said. "As census results determine congressional representation, grant allocations and state redistricting for a decade, it's important for us to ensure every Georgian is represented in the upcoming census."
The committee, according to Perdue Spokesman Bert Brantley, will be responsible for establishing a census-education program to raise awareness and motivate community residents to get involved.
Brantley said Georgia Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Mike Beatty and Governor's Office of Workforce Development Director Debra Lyons will head the committee as co-chairpersons.
"It is exciting to me, because this cycle comes up every ten years," said Sen. Valencia Seay, who represents parts of Clayton and Fayette counties. "I immediately said yes, when asked to be on the committee. As a legislator, it is important to me that we get the numbers right."
Elizabeth "BJ" Mathis, chairwoman of Henry's board of commissioners, believes the committee could play a vital role in getting census-survey support and compliance among citizens.
"We need to really launch a community-wide campaign to help the citizens understand why an accurate census count is important to Georgia," Mathis said. "Census numbers help determine grant apportionment. [For instance,] there are certain grants we could get that are based solely on your population."
The Southern Crescent, like much of metro Atlanta, has continued to grow over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Bureau estimates that Henry County has grown by more than 72,000 people, or 60 percent, between 2000 and 2008.
During the same period, Clayton County - the larger county of the two by population - grew by more than 37,000 people, or 14 percesnt.
Seay said new census data will likely qualify her district and other parts of the metro-Atlanta area for funding they would not otherwise have access to, as smaller districts with less growth.
"Senate District 34 [in Clayton and Fayette counties] is growing," said Seay. "I recognize that there is a lot of strain being put on the system as a whole, i.e. transportation. I would like to see us get our fair share of funding to provide our citizens services.
"As a member of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, we talk about how vitally important it is to get a complete count," Seay added. "It is important that regardless of your status, if you are a Georgia resident, we want you to be counted."
Mathis said an updated and accurate census could also mean more direct representation for Georgia citizens in the U.S. Congress, and more direct representation for Clayton and Henry counties in the Georgia General Assembly.
She added that an updated census will likely require heavy redistricting in the state and throughout metro Atlanta as a result of new, unprecedented growth in the region.
"Georgia could potentially pick up several more congressional seats," continued Mathis. "We want to make sure that on the federal level, Georgia has the appropriate amount of representation."
Henry County is represented in the General Assembly by three state senators who split their districts with other counties.
"State Senators Gail Buckner, Emanuel Jones, and John Douglas, none of them live in Henry County," Mathis said. " After this census, we should have a state senate seat to [more directly] represent our county."
Mathis said she expects to learn more about the committee's role, when she receives the its preliminary meeting itinerary sometime within the next week.